Some ideas to get you started with aerial photography
Drones are big news at the moment. Time was that if you wanted to take an aerial shot, you had to hire a helicopter and take photos from the passenger seat. These days, you can pick up a drone at a range of prices that open up a whole world of aerial photography opportunities. As a result, there a lot more landscape photographs which are taken from the air. If you’ve been considering going for a drone, or perhaps you’ve already bought one and are feeling a little “now what?”, here are some simple tips to help you get the most from your new flying friend.
Best locations for drone photography
One of the best things about using a drone to take landscape photos is that it gives you the opportunity to see completely new and unusual viewpoints for familiar landscapes.
An ordinary landscape can be completely transformed if you view it from the air, but it’s difficult to know how good that location will be until you’ve made your flight. You can use Google to help you plan particularly good locations, and with the increase in people using drones, more images are appearing to help inspire you, too.
Some locations can be unexpectedly beautiful from the air, but in terms of getting started, you may want to think about something which is likely to have bold shapes and patterns when viewed from above. That could be something with particularly interesting architecture, or it could be something more natural.
Striking subjects, such as castles surrounded by a forest of trees can also look particularly stunning from the air too, so have a look for remote buildings that could be suitable.
Overall though, you need to be safety conscious. Make sure that anywhere you plan to fly a drone is nowhere near any other flying aircraft – it goes without saying that anything in close proximity to an airport or airbase is off limits, but it’s worth checking whether your preferred location is in any kind of flight path.
You should also be mindful of local wildlife. Birds have been known to attack drones, while drones flying at fast speeds can be deadly to unsuspecting animals. Always have respect for the natural inhabitants of anywhere you want to photograph – keep an eye out for nests, or try and research and see if it’s an area particularly known for its avian population.
Best weather for drone photography
You need to make sure you check the weather forecast before you set off on an aerial photography mission.
While you may not necessarily need brilliant sunshine to take good shots, if there’s a high amount of wind, or torrential rain, then your shoot is likely to be completely nixed. Keeping control of your drone in high winds will be extremely difficult, so you want the air to be as still as possible.
There are specialist apps and websites which will help you determine the weather conditions in your chosen location – and remember that even if there’s not too much wind on the ground, there may be some higher up in the air.
How to get started with drone photography
Before you take your first shot, it’s most important to get to grips with how exactly to fly and use your drone safely. Although drones have become easier to use in recent years, it’s still quite a skill to fly one – don’t assume you’ll be an expert the first time you take it out.
Take some time to read the manual and understand how each one of the controls work. Before you even start to think about location scouting, spend a few hours practicing flying the drone, learning how to hover, keeping control in windy conditions, and returning it back to you in a smooth movement. Find somewhere close to home which is safe and easy to use – such as a large, open field, and make sure flying the drone is second nature. Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll be ready to start thinking about how the camera controls work, as well as ideal locations and compositions.
Make sure your drone’s battery is fully charged before heading out on a shoot – it sounds like an obvious tip, but it’s an oh-so-crucial one that can save a ruined shoot. It’s also worth investing in extra batteries for your drone so you can keep shooting for as long as the mood takes you.
When you move between locations, make sure to recalibrate your drone every time. Again, it’s a simple tip which may be obvious to experienced drone users, but it’s something that can catch you out unawares if you’re a little newer to the game.
Best drone for photography
Being able to capture new perspectives makes drones very appealing to photographers, rather than simply those who are interested in flying. The question of which drone is best for photography arguably comes down to how much you want to spend. Luckily, there’s a range of budgets depending on how much you have to invest, or how serious you want to get about aerial photography.
The DJI Spark Drone is one of the newest models, and is available at an affordable price. It features a high-performance camera with stabilisation, and a wide-angle f/2.6 lens. A 12 megapixel sensor has been designed to capture the most light possible, while the drone itself can be controlled by gestures.
At the other end of the scale, there are drones such as the DJI Phanton 4 Pro Plus, which at its higher price point is ideally suited to those who really want to take their drone photography to the next level. It features a one-inch 20 megapixel sensor, which is capable of capturing 4K footage as well as stills.
At Jessops, we have a range of different drones to suit your needs and your budget – have a look at the different models we have to offer.
Best settings for drone photography
Once you’ve decided on your drone, you may be wondering what the best settings are when it comes to using the camera. Some drones give you more control than others, but generally speaking you should be thinking about your aerial photography in the same way that you would other types of landscape photography.
If you can shoot in raw format, that’s highly recommended. It will give you the maximum scope to edit your photos in programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom when you get home from a session. It’s also advisable to shoot in manual mode (if the drone offers it) to give you maximum control over it. Shoot at a low ISO, such as ISO 100 or 200 – but don’t be afraid to push it a little higher if skies are darker, such as ISO 400 or ISO 800.
As the drone is moving, even while hovering, quick shutter speeds are a must to reduce the likelihood of image blur in your shots. That said, you can get creative with slower shutter speeds – perhaps once you’re really confident with stabilising your drone, you might want to think about using slower speeds. Again every drone is different, so you’ll get to know how well stabilisation works with your mode.
If your drone offers it, using image bracketing is a good way to ensure you get the best shot possible. If you bracket your shots, you can choose from different exposures or even merge shots together in software to create a HDR look.
Best composition for drone photography
Classic composition rules still apply when shooting from above, but you have the opportunity to get even more creative than you otherwise might do.
One of the first things you’re likely to want to try is shooting directly from above, getting a birds-eye view of a place or location that you’ve probably never seen before. Directly from above, subjects can look drastically different – so you’re likely to be pleased with the results.
You may want to experiment with different rules, such as the rule of odds (grouping odd numbers of subjects together, such as three trees), or the rule of thirds (split an image into three – horizontally and vertically – where the lines meet, you should place your subject). Both of these can work well with aerial photography, but the most important thing is to experiment and have fun – you’ll soon find what works well (and what doesn’t work quite so well) as you go along.
Finally, some drones offer you the ability to shoot in different aspect ratios, such as 16:9 or 4:3. Which aspect ratio you use can alter your composition – there’s no “right” aspect ratio, but it’s important to bear in mind which you’re using when you plan your shot.
Do you have a drone, or are thinking of getting one? Let us know what’s on your wishlist – and share any shots you’re particularly proud of via our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).